Starting this blawg with a story. (Do I even know how to actually spell ‘blawg’ any more? I’m just asking because you’re probably asking. The answer is no.)
When I was twelve, maybe thirteen, the first Lord of the Rings movie came out. Was it the only thing that happened that year? No. The Twin Towers fell, and I think I got leg hair. But it was, by far, the most important to me.
(Cue crazed patriotic backlash over opinion statement. Get over it, I was twelve.)
I’d read the books. They were all right. I had always been, and always will be, more a fan of the Hobbit than LotR, but LotR was all right. The scenes in Moria kept me awake at night. I cheered for Eowyn. I was involved.
I did not, however, turn into the screaming, wheezing, mouth-frothing geek I have been ever since until viewing the movies.
To this day, I’m not certain why they struck such a chord with me. Maybe my shabby twelve year old pubescent existence needed heroes and glory. And swords. (It definitely needed swords). And all my friends had something to obsess over, why not me? I was, at twelve, too old for boy bands (in my head, at least,) and too young to go to concerts.
So I obsessed. I read the trilogy like twenty times. I read the Silmarillion and, to my surprise, enjoyed it. I developed a fondness for Feanor and his sons. I wrote poetic and terrible Feanor fanfiction. Surprisingly, I don’t think I had many pimples, but I did have a pretty gnarly set of braces. Eventually, I got a boyfriend. He didn’t share my fondness for terrible and poetric Feanor fanfiction. I was deeply disappointed. Why couldn’t I just live in Middle Earth, where everyone knew who Feanor was. Etc. You’ve been a preteen. You know the drill.
I’ve diverged somewhat from my original point here, which was to talk about a single phrase in what I think was the first LotR movie, which floored me then and still floors me now. It was:
They will raze Minas Tirith to the ground.
Okay. Now, imagine you’re twelve. You’re stuffing your training bra with toilet paper at the school dance; the biggest book you’ve read is Great Expectations, and that was mostly for the Accelerated Reader points, which you hoard like a dieter hoards Hershey kisses.
Raze is not a word that exists for you. It’s archaic: it’s old-fashioned. But you sure as hell know what raise means, you didn’t get all those reader points for nothing. So, just hearing it spoken, it sure as hell sounds like Boromir is saying they will raise Minas Tirith etc. Which is awfully confusing.
You’re an only child, and your friends aren’t out to play because it’s raining and they’re boring, and this is before the internet was a total thing. So you go to a dictionary. And you spend an amount of time adults might call ‘unhealthy’ looking through the RA section.
A light goes on in your dopey little twelve year old skull.
Holy snickers bars, Batman. There are words that sound like other words but mean different things. How can you trust the world now. How can society continue.
These words, you learn during the five minutes of computer lab where you AREN’T mindlessly playing Oregon Trail, are called ‘homonyms’. Or, to be honest: homophones. For more on the potential difference between the two, check out this link here. I’ll use them interchangably, because I can’t make up my mind about anything more than what to have for dinner without planning.
I still think the phrase ‘razing (Minas Tirith) to the ground’ is one of the worst word choices in cinematic history. I guess, in some ways, I’m just as much of an unimaginative pedant as I was when I was twelve.
But the fact is, at least the script had ‘raze’ in it. They knew what they meant and they knew how to spell it. This is not, unfortunately, a thing I see constantly in independently published fantasy novels: I ran across a high fantasy character in a book last week who took a bridal off a horse several times, and I’ve been thinking about that raise/raze moment ever since.
One of the most difficult things about writing fantasy is the fact that, for verisimilitude, some archaic/infrequently used words have to become commonly used for you. Unless you grew up with horses, you probably haven’t had to type ‘bridle’ very often. You might not understand that Aunt Cynthia’s tea cozy horde and the oncoming horde in your novel are different things. And we won’t even talk about affect/effect: the internet has done that for us, often snottily.
So, please. If you’re self-editing, check your homophonic spelling. Make sure you’re using the right word. Because if one more person tells me they’ve hit the motherload on Facebook, I’m going to go batshit crazy.
Here, collected just for your pretty selves, are twenty fantasy-esque homophones that you need to outright master. I’ve seen about half of them wrong in print, and when you put a bridal on your horse in print, children in third world countries starve to death.
If you want to view more shiny homonyms, this is a good list, and includes, as far as I could see, most of the ones I talk about here.
Raze–to destroy, to burn down.
Raise–to build or raise up.
Council–a group of people offering advice.
Counsel–a single adviser, or sometimes the advice itself.
Altar–That thing in the church people worship and get married at.
Alter–to change a course of events.
Load–a portion of something, usually to be carried.
Lode–a source or supply of ore (note: motherLODE.)
Affect–to change somehow.
Effect–the result of that change.
Blonde–yellow haired (female).
Blond–yellow haired (male).
Reign–a rule or regency.
Rain–water that falls from the sky.
Rein–a thing you control your horse with.
Ail–to be sick or ill.
Gorilla–large grunty primate.
Guerrilla–non-regulation soldier, often a rebel.
Manner–a fashion of doing things.
Manor–a large house.
Bough–a tree limb.
Bow–that bending motion you make to important people. Also, pronounced differently: that thing with a string you use to shoot arrows at people.
Hoard–a large collection of items, or the act of collecting these items.
Horde–an invading army.
Bear–a fuzzy animal that might kill you. Also: to carry a burden.
Bare–to shed clothing or layers.
Yoke–a holster of sorts.
Yolk–that orange thing in the middle of an egg.
Exercise–something you need thirty minutes of a day, at least.
Exorcise–what you do to the demon inhabiting cousin Clara’s body.
Grizzly–a type of bear. Also–having a weathered, unkempt look.
Capital–the foremost part of something. Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina; moving out of it is a capital idea.
Capitol–a specific type of government building. Psst–there’s one on Capitol Hill.
Bridal–things relating to the woman’s part in a wedding.
Bridle–that thing you put over your horse’s face.
Faint–weak and unobtrusive; to fall down in a swoon.
Feint–a move intended to mislead an opponent.
Fourth–what comes after the third.
Forth–moving forward, going out into the world.